It wasn’t all baseball at Fenway Park on Monday, April 12, 1982. The Boston Red Sox did play the Chicago White Sox to open their 82nd season, but musicians played there, too. April 12 was the final day of the 10th Boston Sackbut Week, and three local advocates of the sackbut—Tom Everett, Phil Wilson, and Tom Plsek—boisterously marked both events at Fenway.

The sackbut, for the uninitiated, is a direct ancestor of the modern trombone. It was prominent in the music capitols of Europe at about the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Almost 250 years later, Tom Everett (director of the Harvard University Jazz Band) and Phil Wilson (teaching at the Berklee College) incorporated the old word into the title of a new event they were organizing: Boston Sackbut Week.

Photo of trombonists marching at Fenway Park, 1977

Phil Wilson leads 76 trombonists into Fenway Park, 1977. Front row from left: Bob Wolf, Tony Cennamo, unknown. Second row left, Bruce Eidem. Third row left, Fred Schmidt. Photo courtesy Phil Wilson.


Everett and Wilson hatched the idea after attending the 1972 annual conference of the International Trombone Association. They were impressed by the nonstop trombone-centered activity, and warmed by the spirit of camaraderie. Everett told me, “I said to Phil, why don’t we do this in Boston? We’ve got terrific trombone players in town who never cross tracks. The symphony guys never meet with the jazz players, and neither group interacts much with the educators. They’re all separate. Why not bring trombone players together?” Added Wilson, “So we put the word out that anybody who owned a trombone, at any level, was welcome. Top to bottom.” Concluded Everett: “I just found bringing people together—kids, professionals, everybody—was so damn exciting.” The following year, Berklee trombonist Tom Plsek joined them as an organizer, and Sackbut Week became an annual thing. They were still hard at it in 1982.

The Sackbut Week organizers had an often-zany approach to event promotion, sometimes deploying masses of trombones to great effect. Marching into Fenway Park on opening day was a good example, but there were also parades down Boylston Street, a production of “76 Trombones” with the Boston Pops, and trombonists blowing on the swan boats. You couldn’t help but notice. “Our award for local promotion of the year must go to Phil Wilson for the job he did alerting local music people to Boston Sackbut Week,” noted the Real Paper in April 1975. “He mailed hand-painted stones to the papers with the legend ‘Boston Sackbut Week, April 28-May 4.” (People who wonder why nobody runs their press releases, take note.)

On Opening Day, April 12

It was the usual busy week leading up to the Fenway Park event, with concerts, clinics, and recitals all over the Back Bay. And on that sunny-but-cool April day, the 76 trombonists (the actual count was closer to 90), mostly recruited by word-of-mouth, marched on to the field playing “76 Trombones,” from The Music Man. Of course.

Harry Ellis Dickson, the assistant conductor of the Boston Pops, had the baton that day. And besides the aforementioned Everett, Plsek, and Wilson, marchers included Ron Barron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, former Buddy Rich sidemen Tony Lada and Rick Stepton, Ben Elkins and all his Back Bay Bones, and the dean of the local jazz trombonists, Dr Gene DiStasio. Many amateurs turned out, led by the redoubtable WBUR deejay, Tony Cennamo.

Photo of Kevin White and Tom Everett

Mayor Kevin White with Tom Everett, reading the city’s Boston Sackbut Week proclamation

The Sackbut Week organizers delivered an urgent message to the Fenway crowd, too. A few paraders set aside their instruments to carry a banner with the appeal, “Save Music In Our Schools.” They were protesting the budget cuts to public education enacted by Massachusetts towns in the wake of Proposition 2-1/2. “We’ve lost 20 to 25 percent of our school music teachers in the state as a consequence of Proposition 2-1/2. Everyone in the music field recognizes this threat,” Everett told the Globe. “If young people aren’t exposed to music education early, they can’t make it up later on.”

With all the trombonists finally on the field, they played a few other tunes from Music Man, and closed with Phil Wilson’s arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Then they marched off, and the venerable Red Sox legend Smokey Joe Wood threw out the first pitch to start the game.

More Trombonists at the Old Ball Game

Nineteen eighty-two was actually the second appearance of the Sackbut Week trombonists at Fenway Park. They also marched in 1977, although not on opening day. I’ve had to use a 1977 photo on this page, since I couldn’t find one from 1982. The conductor that year was Pete Chiarini, the president of Boston Musicians Association. Everett told me, “The union was giving us a little grief about playing out at Fenway Park. They didn’t like the idea of the professional musicians not getting paid. So we said, Pete, why don’t you conduct “The Star Spangled Banner?” He thought about that, and said, “Okay, we’ll let the trombones do it.”

Come to think of it, Sackbut Week wasn’t the first time a trombonist serenaded the crowd at a professional baseball game in Boston. The Boston Braves—we’re going back a few years for this, to the late 1940s—received musical support from a trio called the Braves Troubadours. They’d roam around the ballpark, providing musical ad-libs to events on the field. Sparky Tomasetti was the trombonist, with Hymie Brenner on trumpet and Sid Barbato on clarinet. Tomasetti and Barbato were both better known around town as hot jazz players. In 1948, Happy Chandler, the commissioner of baseball, actually asked the Troubadours to refrain from playing their usual rendition of “Three Blind Mice” when they disagreed with an umpire’s call.

But back to 1982’s baseball game. Despite Carl Yastrzemski bashing a home run into the right-field seats, the White Sox prevailed, 3-2. Most of the trombonists were already gone when the last out was recorded, though. There were still Sackbut Week events happening nearby at Boston University that they didn’t want to miss.